Commentary on the Accusation of Heresy against Pope Francis

Edited to add: read this by Jimmy Akin
http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jimmy-akin/on-charging-a-pope-with-heresy

Preface

It is a dogma of the Catholic Faith that the Church is indefectible. Therefore, any man accepted as Roman Pontiff by the body of Bishops must necessarily be a valid Pope. For if the Church ever had an invalid head, She could not be said to be indefectible.

It is a dogma of the Catholic Faith that a valid Pope can never teach heresy, nor any grave error, nor can he commit apostasy, heresy, or schism. This dogma was taught by the First Vatican Council, as well as the ordinary and universal Magisterium.

It is a dogma of the Catholic Faith that no one on earth has the authority to judge the Roman Pontiff.

See the teachings of the Church on these points here.

As a consequence of the above dogmas, Pope Francis cannot possibly ever teach or commit heresy. Moreover, no one on earth has the authority to judge his case, to decide that he is guilty of ANY canonical delict.

To publicly assert that Pope Francis is guilty of teaching or committing heresy is to commit the sin of formal heresy, by denying or doubting, obstinately, the above dogmas. The same assertion is also the sin of formal schism. For anyone who decides that a Pope is guilty of formal heresy, would not thereafter submit himself to the authority of a supposed heretic.

Know this: all those who accuse Pope Francis of formal heresy are thereby committing heresy and schism themselves, and so they are automatically excommunicated and guilty of very grave sins. I caution my readers not to commit the grave sin of supporting, promoting, or participating in this false accusation against the Vicar of Christ.

My book defending Pope Francis is here, In Defense of Pope Francis, and my book explaining why no Pope can teach or commit heresy is here: The Indefectibility of the Pope

The Non-Filial Accusation

In an Open Letter released 30 April 2019, a group of Catholics accuse Pope Francis of heresy. Many (if not all?) of these accusers were also signatories to the Filial Correction (FC), and this Open Letter (OL) is presented as a follow up to that document.

The accusation is public formal heresy, not teaching heresy, but rather committing heresy. In other words, the signatories propose that they are able to judge and conclude, from the public words and deeds of Pope Francis, that he has committed heresy in his mind and heart. They propose that Francis has denied or doubted dogmas of the faith obstinately.

This is a different type of accusation than teaching heresy. A person might inadvertently teach heresy, publicly, through ignorance. To accuse someone of teaching heresy, one need only prove that an idea was taught by that person, and that the idea itself is heretical. Instead, the signatories claim to know that Francis has committed heresy in his very soul.

This accusation implies sin on the part of the Pope, and since it is grave matter supposedly committed with full knowledge and deliberation, it would have to be actual mortal sin. Repentance from this type of alleged sin by a Church leader would need to be accompanied by public correction of the errors, so as to avoid grave harm to souls. Otherwise, one would be guilty of an additional mortal sin of omission. And since Pope Francis has not repented publicly and issued a correction of the alleged errors, one would have to conclude — if the accusation were true (which it is not) — that this accusation is of unrepented actual mortal sin.

Any Catholic who commits formal heresy is automatically excommunicated under Canon Law. It is also inherent to the sin itself, under the eternal moral law, that a person who commits apostasy, heresy, or schism is automatically excommunicated by Divine precept, apart from Canon law. Therefore, the accusation implies that Pope Francis is already automatically excommunicated.

An automatically excommunicated Bishop or priest can still validly dispense the Sacraments. It is not true that a latae sententiae excommunication makes the person no longer a member of the Church, in any sense. If so, then heretical and schismatic priests could not validly consecrate the Eucharist. (The Council of Trent teaches they can.)

Thus, the signatories are stating or implying:
* that Pope Francis deliberately and knowingly rejected (by obstinate doubt or denial) dogmas of the faith,
* that he has thereby committed actual mortal sin,
* that he has thereby lost the state of grace,
* that he is unrepentant from these actual mortal sins,
* and that he is automatically excommunicated.

Many persons believe that if a Pope were to commit formal heresy, he would cease to be a valid Pope, and would become an antipope. However, none of this can happen as the prevenient grace of God protects every Pope from teaching grave error and from committing apostasy, heresy, or schism.

Now, despite publicly accusing Pope Francis of heresy, and saying that it is “beyond a doubt” that he is guilty of promoting and spreading heresy, the signatories then assert:

“Despite the evidence that we have put forward in this letter, we recognise that it does not belong to us to declare the pope guilty of the delict of heresy in a way that would have canonical consequences for Catholics.”

You recognize that you do not have the authority or role to judge the Pope guilty, and yet you do so anyway? Adding the qualification “in a way that would have canonical consequences” does not save the assertion from being an admission of their own realization that they have usurped a role and authority not given to them.

These are the seven alleged heresies:

“I. A justified person has not the strength with God’s grace to carry out the objective demands of the divine law, as though any of the commandments of God are impossible for the justified; or as meaning that God’s grace, when it produces justification in an individual, does not invariably and of its nature produce conversion from all serious sin, or is not sufficient for conversion from all serious sin.”

“II. A Christian believer can have full knowledge of a divine law and voluntarily choose to break it in a serious matter, but not be in a state of mortal sin as a result of this action.”

“III. A person is able, while he obeys a divine prohibition, to sin against God by that very act of obedience.”

“IV. Conscience can truly and rightly judge that sexual acts between persons who have contracted a civil marriage with each other, although one or both of them is sacramentally married to another person, can sometimes be morally right, or requested or even commanded by God.”

“V. It is false that the only sexual acts that are good of their kind and morally licit are acts between husband and wife.”

“VI. Moral principles and moral truths contained in divine revelation and in the natural law do not include negative prohibitions that absolutely forbid particular kinds of action, inasmuch as these are always gravely unlawful on account of their object.”

“VII. God not only permits, but positively wills, the pluralism and diversity of religions, both Christian and non-Christian.”

Most of these accusations were previously stated in the Filial Correction, which I have already refuted here: Commentary on the Filial Correction. So the Open Letter (OL) is mostly a rehash of complaints about Amoris Laetitia.

The last point is new. However, Pope Francis has openly stated, when asked, that the plurality and diversity of religions is due to God’s permissive will. So it makes no sense to accuse him of saying that God positively wills many religions.

In addition, there is no formal dogma which would make #7 a heresy. The citations given are either not a magisterial dogma, or they do not positively contradict the position that God might positively will diversity in the religions of a fallen and sinful humanity.

Moreover, the citations — the purpose of which are to establish the dogmas that Pope Francis is supposedly denying — confuse material dogma with formal dogma. Heresy pertains only to formal dogma, that is, to truths taught infallibly by the Magisterium, teaching from Divine Revelation. It is not sufficient to “prove” by a theological argument that an assertion is found within Tradition or Scripture. The truth must be taught also by the Magisterium and infallibly, i.e. by Papal Infallibility, Conciliar Infallibility, or the ordinary and universal Magisterium.

If a Pope denies a truth which the majority opinion of the conservative Catholic subculture believes to be taught by the supposedly correct understanding of Tradition or Scripture, it is not even possible for that denial to be heresy, UNLESS the Magisterium has ALSO taught that idea infallibly.

“But it is taught by Tradition and the Pope is denying it!” No, you think that is the proper understanding of what Tradition is teaching. What makes your interpretation better than that of the Catholic standing next to you, or better than that of the Pope? It’s not even possibly a heresy unless the Magisterium has an infallible teaching on that point.

Therefore, the vast majority of the citations, which supposedly prove the truths that the Pope denies, are not applicable. There are no infallible magisterial teachings in Sacred Scripture. The Magisterium teaches from Tradition and Scripture. But a mere citation from Scripture begs the question as to whose interpretation is correct.

“I. A justified person has not the strength with God’s grace to carry out the objective demands of the divine law, as though any of the commandments of God are impossible for the justified; or as meaning that God’s grace, when it produces justification in an individual, does not invariably and of its nature produce conversion from all serious sin, or is not sufficient for conversion from all serious sin.”

Pope Francis has not asserted the heresy stated in #1 above. It is a heresy, in that it contradicts the infallible teachings of the Council of Trent and the ordinary and universal Magisterium. He simply has not taught such a heresy. Only an unfair and uncharitable interpretation of his teachings in Amoris Laetitia could make it seem as if he held such an idea.

“II. A Christian believer can have full knowledge of a divine law and voluntarily choose to break it in a serious matter, but not be in a state of mortal sin as a result of this action.”

Three things are needed for a sin to be actual mortal sin: full knowledge, full deliberation, and grave matter. The assertion above does not state the degree of consent or deliberation in the voluntary nature of the act, so #2 is not heresy. It would be heresy if “voluntary” were specified to be full in its consent.

“III. A person is able, while he obeys a divine prohibition, to sin against God by that very act of obedience.”

God might sent a contemplative monk into the active life, so as to serve a particular need in the Church. And God might know that the monk will sin more, venially, in that active life than he would in the contemplative life. Yet God might give that order, and the monk, knowing that he would sin more in the active life than in the contemplative life, might morally obey that order. So #3 is not heresy.

A person who is divorced and remarried might realize that, in doing the right thing by leaving his or her spouse, they would likely be in a situation that would present grave temptation to sin. But if they remain with their current illicit spouse, they certainly also sin gravely. The Pontiff discusses difficult situations like this in Amoris Laetitia, but he does not assert that one can ever directly sin by the very fact of obeying God.

This false accusation against Pope Francis (#3) suffers from the assumption that an overly simplified understanding of morality is dogmatic.

“IV. Conscience can truly and rightly judge that sexual acts between persons who have contracted a civil marriage with each other, although one or both of them is sacramentally married to another person, can sometimes be morally right, or requested or even commanded by God.”

Pope Francis did not teach this error. Conscience sometimes incorrectly judges many things. Conscience sometimes judges correctly that a previous marriage was not valid. Many Catholics are poorly catechized, and have badly misunderstood Catholic teaching on marriage. And which of these papal critics is teaching the divorced and remarried the proper understanding? Instead of telling the Vicar of Christ, the Supreme Judge of the Church on earth, what they think he ought to be saying and doing, they should help the divorced and remarried by teaching them and by correcting them charitably.

“V. It is false that the only sexual acts that are good of their kind and morally licit are acts between husband and wife.”

First, not every sexual act between a husband and wife is morally licit. Second, natural marital relations open to life is the only moral sexual act. However, Pope Francis has not taught the above stated heresy.

“VI. Moral principles and moral truths contained in divine revelation and in the natural law do not include negative prohibitions that absolutely forbid particular kinds of action, inasmuch as these are always gravely unlawful on account of their object.”

Pope Francis has not denied that intrinsically evil acts are always immoral, by reason of their moral object.

“VII. God not only permits, but positively wills, the pluralism and diversity of religions, both Christian and non-Christian.”

This point was discussed above. It is not a heresy in the first place, and Pope Francis, in the second place, has publicly stated the opposite: that it is due to the permissive will of God.

Guilt by Association

The OL has a long section in which it is proposed that the sins or errors of certain Church leaders, who are associated with Pope Francis, should be seen as evidence that Pope Francis holds heretical beliefs. The very premise itself is absurd. Most of these leaders rose to leadership roles under Pope Saint John Paul II. Is he also guilty by association with them?

Using former-Cardinal McCarrick as an example is particularly absurd. He rose to power under Pope Saint John Paul II. He was removed from the college of Cardinals by Pope Francis. He was tried and convicted of grave sins, and his appeal confirmed the conviction, under Pope Francis. If Francis were guilty of heresy for his association with McCarrick, the same would be said of Pope Saint John Paul II. Why is it that conservatives do not give credit to Pope Francis for removing and convicting McCarrick?

The Guilt by Association section essentially proposes that by not running the Church the way that conservative Catholics would like, a Pope necessarily commits heresy. The dogma that the First See is judge by no one is severely violated by this OL, especially by the section which examines a wide range of different types of papal decisions and exercises of authority, and proposes to judge and condemn each and all.

On reception of Communion, Peter holds the keys. If Peter wishes to permit divorced and remarried persons, who are not conscious of unrepented actual mortal sin, to receive Communion, he may do so. If it were the case that mere objective mortal sin — without an accompanying realization that the sins had the full culpability of actual mortal sin — prohibited from Communion, then the vast majority of Catholics could not receive.

In addition, all of the signatories and anyone who supports this OL’s accusation of heresy against the Roman Pontiff are guilty of formal schism and formal heresy, and are therefore unfit for Communion themselves.

The appeal at the end of the Open Letter

The OL proposes that, for the Pope to redeem himself (in the eyes of the signatories), would require “repudiating and reversing these actions, including his nomination of bishops and cardinals who have supported these heresies by their words or actions.” This alleged requirement is absurd. The signatories propose that they should have the role not only to judge the Roman Pontiff, but to judge the Cardinals and Bishops appointed by him, and to demand that they be removed from the college of Cardinals or of Bishops.

Then the signatories state that they do not need a majority of the Bishops to agree with them, but only a substantive portion of the “faithful Bishops”. Of course, the term faithful Bishop means those judged to be faithful by the heretical and schismatic signatories. And what would then happen if this subset of a subset did declare the Pope to be guilty of formal heresy? That group of Bishops would be in a state of formal schism, and the Pope with the vast majority of the body of truly faithful Bishops would excommunicate them.

So the signatories are not proposing a correction, but a schism. This is particularly clear with their Letter to the Bishops asking them to rebel against the Pope, rebel against the majority of the other Bishops, and make an accusation that is patently schismatic and heretical.

It is sad to see this combination of ignorance and arrogance in the signatories to this Letter. The teaching is quite clear that the grace of God prevents every Pope from teaching or committing heresy. So a public claim that a Pope is in a state of formal heresy is itself a heresy. And then, of course, no one who thinks the Pope to be a heretic would submit to his authority over doctrine and discipline. So the accusation of this letter is also schismatic.

The signatories to this Open Letter are guilty of formal heresy and formal schism; they are automatically excommunicated, and are therefore unworthy to receive holy Communion. It is not the Pope, but they who must repent and repudiate their errors.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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9 Responses to Commentary on the Accusation of Heresy against Pope Francis

  1. rd says:

    What if Francis is not a valid Pope, such as if Benedict invalidly resigned “active ministry” or even the full papacy, despite retaining “Emeritus” title.. if Benedict resigned under duress or from error, his resignation is invalid by Canon 188. He also did not renounce his “munus” per Canon 332.

  2. erm6 says:

    Hi Ron. Thanks for this article.

    I’m a little confused by your example about the contemplative monk. So he’s in a religious order, and his superior commands him to undertake some work in the active life, and he obeys. By obeying his superior, he is obeying God.

    Or, similarly, he himself may initiate this change, if he feels that God wants him to do that active work. In that case, he might tell his superior about it, and the superior may give permission to do so. And then he goes ahead with the active work, in obedience to God and the superior.

    The monk might sin more in the active life, yes.

    But I don’t see the connection to a “divine prohibition” mentioned in that accusation.

    • Ron Conte says:

      I was expressing the idea that God (not the monk or his superior) might want him to be in a situation where he will sin more, rather than a situation where he would sin less. So this refutes the idea that obeying God cannot result in sin (indirectly).

  3. Alex says:

    What we see with the circus of the fundamentals who determine the moral (and not the pope who is infallible on moral and dogmas), and accuse all others who do not think like them in heresy, is the cover story.

    The real thing is, the pope should be prevented to do his God-given mission, including related to Russia according to Fatima requirements.

    The newest Russian Poseidon robotic mini submarines could carry at least 100 megaton nuclear load, 8 mini subs in a single carrier submarine! Besides the other new weapons recently announced that we know from science fiction. Poseidon is not just the next weapon that the West will neutralize or retaliate. That is a doomsday weapon that could hypothetically ignite the ocean (atmosphere) in a nuclear chain reaction, feared by Oppenheimer before the first US test. The project of a doomsday ship loaded with nuclear material to be exploded in case of USSR losing WW3, was canceled by Gorbachev. Now it comes back, much more modern and targeted. No one knows when the threshold of atmosphere/ocean chain reaction will be reached. Tsar bomb was scaled down from 100 mgt to only 57 mgt. Why? Wasn’t the purpose of the entire test to show up the full scale of the Soviet might? Maybe the reason of slowing the reaction was exactly that, not to ignite the atmosphere.

    And those fooled fanatics play in the hands of Satan so well that he doesn’t have to make them sin with adultery. They are more useful to him in their self-assumed righteousness and pride. Instead of their absurd crusade against the vicar of Christ who is not heretic at all, they should be the main core in every diocese to pray for Fatima fulfillment and other revelations, and to give example of humble service to their neighbors. We don’t need their modern witch hunt, even less a pope hunt. Without the pope, this one or the next one, there is no Fatima fulfillment!

    Here I want to post a song of M Generation Jewish boyband of descendants of immigrants from Eastern Europe and Ex-Soviet Union https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEFpIJhpY-M&t=13m14s

    • Alex says:

      Let me just add, that according to some unconfirmed source, Putin wanted the consecration of Russia to take place. We need to HELP pope Francis to do his mission, and not to stop him. He is an old man who is nearing the end of his papacy for purely human reasons. The absurd attack on him, under the Pretext of morality, is the best tool of satan I have ever seen in my life. (let notice that the morality was never 100% or 50%, not even in the Middle ages, let those fanatics educate themselves what was happening in the time they so much dream about). Coupled with the attack on the universal Holy Mass that is said in every church throughout the world, under the pretext that the old mass was the true one. In Peter’s time, neither of these ordos existed anyway. The attack is Satanic against the Most Holy Eucharist. And those fools are really very fool, much more than the unwise virgins. They will be left out in the night, as Jesus Himself teaches us. And let me say it frankly, better they than we!

  4. erm6 says:

    Thanks again Ron for this article.

    I think that the open letter may spawn additional controversy.

    As other people and groups begin to write their own letters and statements in support of, or in opposition to, the open letter, I would much appreciate if you would continue to comment on these developments.

    For example, some well-known, liberal supporters of Pope Francis might state that points I and IV are not errors and that Pope Francis did teach them (unlike you who are saying that they’re errors and Pope Francis didn’t teach them). I would appreciate hearing your commentary on such statements if they arise.

    On the other hand, if you come across commentary that is actually similar or close to your position, I would appreciate if you could post links to those as well.

    Basically, thanks for taking up this topic, and I appreciate your perspective in commenting on any further statements and counter-statements.

Comments are closed.